Comics Ate My Brain

January 4, 2005

Will Eisner, 1917-2005

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom Bondurant @ 6:25 pm
Will Eisner, one of the true giants in comics, passed away yesterday. He was most famous for his masked detective called The Spirit, but he was also arguably the author of the modern graphic novel. He literally wrote the book — Comics & Sequential Art — on graphic storytelling, something not even Jack Kirby could claim to have done. He will be missed.

As it happens, David over at Yet Another Comics Blog was encouraging people to treat themselves to an Eisner book, so I’ll second his suggestion.

The End Of The Beginning, or Look Ma, No Han?

Filed under: star wars — Tom Bondurant @ 6:10 pm
Naturally I was excited when the Star Wars prequels were first announced, ‘way back when. Surely they would focus on the Jedi Knights, and I really dug the Jedi — even more so once I read the spooky post-ROTJ Luke of Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy’s Dark Empire comic. The prequels would deliver more flashing lightsabers and Force powers — but how would that go over with the general public?

While one could argue that Star Wars and Empire were successful because they tapped into a collective mythic blah blah blah, a big part of that success was Han Solo and his roguish charm. However, by the time of Return of the Jedi, the overall plot had Han practically domesticated, with his role in the story clearly less important than Luke’s. Luke is the hero on a macro level, but he’s also more of a straight man than Han or even Leia. I figured the prequels wouldn’t have a Han-figure because they must set the stage for Luke’s heroics.

Han also spent a lot of the original trilogy scoffing either at the Force or at Leia’s royalty, two things with which the prequels are abundantly concerned. As a Princess and a Senator, Leia represents the politics of the Old Republic. With both the Jedi and the Republic sliding down the tubes in the prequels, and nothing getting any better, why have a character making sarcastic comments during the decline?

The prequels’ focus on the Jedi Knights and Old Republic politics has been fascinating for me as a fan, but from an entertainment standpoint the movies really could have used a dose of Han-type humor and skepticism. Ewan McGregor has tried hard, and maybe Jimmy Smits can make something out of Bail Organa, but I doubt it.

I’m afraid the same logic will apply to Batman Begins. After seeing the BB trailer on the big screen (before Ocean’s Twelve), I’m more impressed than I was watching the comparatively tiny Internet version, but I’m still worried that the movie will be so much fan-attractive trivia and not enough audience-friendly Bat-action.

How valuable is the superhero origin sequence to the general public, really? The Incredibles didn’t dwell on anybody’s origin. Neither did X-Men (which didn’t deal so much in origins sequences as it did character introductions; and the flashbacks to Wolverine’s past in X2 similarly advanced the larger plot). 1998’s The Mask Of Zorro showed Antonio Banderas’ Zorro origin, but in the context of the original Zorro training him. The first Batman showed the Waynes’ murders in flashback, and Batman Forever showed Robin’s origin; both again in service of the larger plot. Each of these jumped right into the superheroics, and each was pretty well-received.

Movies which start off devoting a lot of time to origins are arguably more of a mixed bag. Hulk used what felt like the first half of the movie to set up Bruce’s irradiation and the consequences thereof, and my wife fell asleep. Superman spent a good bit of time on Krypton and in Kansas, but at least the audience got to see an alien world, and then Clark using his powers. Those settings also gave the movie an epic sweep that made it feel bigger and grander than just another action movie. Finally, Spider-Man almost couldn’t avoid the origin, since Peter’s guilt drives how he uses (and for that matter values) his powers. It doesn’t hurt that his origin is so powerful, and the movie sequences were well-dramatized. With Spider-Man, understanding the origin is essential for understanding the character.

This is apparently the tack that David Goyer and Christopher Nolan have taken in writing and directing Batman Begins. The question is whether audiences will find Bruce Wayne’s story sufficiently compelling for the time it takes. Again, the first Batman didn’t linger over the Wayne murders, and said nothing about Bruce’s training or even the choice of motif, and it made a skillion dollars. Thus, the public at large may have a very different set of expectations from a Batman film than even the average comics fan. As much as fans hated Joel Schumacher’s over-the-top approach, he might well have had solid reasoning behind it.

At the very least I will probably find something to like about this movie, just like I found good things about each of the four previous ones. However, as a fan I’m disposed to like it. My fear is that it will be too fan-friendly and thus bore anyone who’s not excited about the minutiae of Batman’s origin. We fans have been waiting for that one perfect vehicle which will at last convince the masses that our hero is neither a ’60s joke nor a ’90s parade of neon and nipples. The question is whether this movie, like Spider-Man before it, will find its Han Solo — namely, that elusive balance between fidelity to the stories and commercial appeal.

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